Taking back our food

One of my favorite desserts is an incredibly simple recipe from Mollie Katzen. It’s a light fruit soup that calls for just a handful of ingredients: freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe berries, plain yogurt, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The ingredients are simple enough that the whole thing sings when made with fresh, ripe ingredients…and falls flat when you even glance at storebought orange juice or anemic greenhouse strawberries.

As a culture, we’ve experienced a sort of gustatory amnesia about how good simple, fresh food tastes. We’ve been persuaded by food scientists, our own busy lives, and our love for convenience that packaged, processed food tastes good. But it doesn’t, not really. After cooking most of my own food for a few years, I recently ate a frozen dinner (ironically, one by Moosewood) and was appalled. I finished it, but felt queasy afterwards. Yet I’m sure that plenty of people who eat processed food on a more regular basis than I do would have been fine with it, maybe even enjoyed it.

My mother loves fruit trees, so even in our small suburban yard, I grew up with the taste of tart-sweet raspberries eaten straight off the vine, pink-blushed apricots, fuzzy and still warm from the sun, and glossy mahogany plums so sweet that biting into them was a religious experience.  I no longer have a yard, but I still remember how food should taste. And so, after a brief hiatus during college in which I ate mostly processed junk, I’m back to making a good deal of my own food and being amazed at how satisfying fresh, made-from-scratch food is — not just the taste, but also the process of making it.

This weekend I made bread. It was a sunny Saturday morning on which I had nowhere particular to be, so during long, slow risings, I read a book, drank my tea, and played with the cat. The kneading was rhythmical and soothing, and the smells of yeast, flour, honey, and sunshine became their own wordless poem. And the bread, eaten warm with a generous dollop of homemade marmalade, was delicious. Not because it was awesome bread, made with utmost skill and proficiency, but because it was fresh, and I made it.

This is my challenge to myself for the next year: every month, I’m going to try making something new from scratch I usually buy. I want to take back my food from the food corporations and get away from plastic packaging.  I’m thinking I’d like to tackle canning my own tomato sauce, making my own granola bars, folding my own veggie potstickers, among other things. Want to join me?


18 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t think I can commit-as much as I would love to. What I will do is read through your yummy recipes (please be sure to share) and try to make as many as I can. Your description of taking back your food is wonderful. The stores have so much processed crap that many of us have forgotten what real food tastes like. Can’t wait for the veggie potstickers and granola bars!


    • No worries! My enthusiasm for cooking is sporadic, so there may be months in which I post several experiments, and others in which I eat things I previously made and prudently stuck in the freezer. 🙂 The veggie potstickers could be challenging. We used to make meat potstickers from scratch at home, but vegetables don’t stick together when they cook the way meat does. We’ll see.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by grnthmbnl, Jennifer Mo. Jennifer Mo said: Homemade just tastes better. Take back your food from corporations! (new entry) http://bit.ly/htOvOQ […]


  3. A great challenge! I am taking on SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) food eating this year as our family challenge, but also wanting to get into Artisan (gluten free) bread making instead of making it in our bread machine, AND fermentation! I wanted to make our biscuits, slices and school snacks from scratch too, but so far, it just hasn’t happened! I don’t think I can take on any more challenges at the moment, but I am keen to see your recipes!


    • I just saw your post on your solar oven. Pretty amazing! I can’t imagine what kind of challenges artisan gluten-free bread making would run into. I’m definitely not that brave. SOLE sounds like a great challenge. I’ve fallen off the farmers’ market bandwagon during the winter, but I hear the new asparagus crop has just arrived, so I think that will be changing soon.


    • Awesome! SOLE presents such a wide array of dilemmas… the more you learn, the harder it is to just go to the grocery store and buy produce. I also would like to learn about fermentation.


      • So true, and it’s about finding a balance between getting on with everyday things, and taking some of those everyday things and making them better!! Balance, that’s the trickiest thing of all, if you ask me! So much to learn about, so much that I have to learn from scratch (no mothers or grandmothers to pass things along to me) and finding time to follow my passions, to research and learn, to trial & error when you take on challenges!


  4. Posted by Emily on 02/15/2011 at 19:32

    Because I live in a Northern climate and because our local Co-Op is ridiculously expensive, I buy conventional fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods (and packaged pasta, too) during the Winter and Spring. I buy from the Farmers’ Market or use veggies from my garden during the Summer and Fall. Consequently, I’m much more inspired to cook creatively and even eat during the Summer and Fall when I am using fresh, local fruits and vegetables. I also feel much healthier. When I switch to fresh foods in the Summer, my body almost feels like its detoxing.’Real’ foods just taste world’s above ‘conventional’ foods. Since reducing my meat intake, I’m saving money on groceries. I’m really wondering now, can I afford NOT to eat Co-Op produce during the Winter? Is conventional food affecting my health and immune system?


    • The next step of taking back our food is definitely growing it ourselves. I’m a slacker on that end — I still haven’t looked into community gardens and have only made slight inroads into growing things on my windowsills. I have lots of good examples around me, though, so it’s only a matter of time before I take that leap.

      I also buy more conventional produce during the winter. I have to admit that part of the reason is that I hate going to the farmers’ market when it’s rainy and cold, even though I totally should because California grows stuff year round.


  5. “The kneading was rhythmical and soothing, and the smells of yeast, flour, honey, and sunshine became their own wordless poem.”

    I love that. So true, there is something awesome about making your own bread. I am so glad it worked out for you! I totally connect and agree with everything you are saying. Fresh fruit and vegetables do taste so much better. Now that I have almost completely switched to the Farmer’s market, I am amazed how delicious a carrot can be, or how sweet and crisp a sweet pea can be. Tomatoes explode with flavour. How can I go back?

    I like the challenge, count me in! Last night I made Valentine’s cupcakes, and tinted the icing with Saskatoon berry syrup from the Farmer’s market, instead of standard red food colouring. What is in food colouring anyway?


    • I believe regular food coloring contains petroleum products that have been suspected of contributing to behavioral issues in children (tourettes, ADHD, etc). I seem to remember reading somewhere that brightly colored breakfast cereals are not permitted in Europe because of these concerns. I’m amazed at how we can think of something like Lucky Charms as food!

      I’m glad my second loaf turned out, too. I am often impatient with myself and might have given up on bread if the second one had also gone lopsided. Now I’m envisioning all sorts of new variations to try (cinnamon raisin? Yes, please!).


  6. I don’t buy frozen ready meals any more – as convenient as they are, they always leave me unsatisfied and queasy, like you.
    Much better to cook something and then freeze it in individual portions for those times when I’m in a hurry!
    I love the taste of fresh fruit – apricots, berries, peaches…and nothing beats ripe tomatoes salad with olive oil, salt & basil, and freshly baked bread 🙂
    I too find making bread soothing…and somewhat magical!


    • My brilliant scheme of turning leftovers into frozen dinners hit a pot hole when I got married and no longer had any leftovers. I’ve begun to compensate and cook bigger batches, but it definitely threw me for a while. (Wait, I cooked enough for FOUR portions! What do you mean, it’s all gone?)


  7. Congrats on baking your own bread! Sadly, ever since moving to a neighbourhood with a bakery three doors down, I’m not baking as much as I used to.

    So I think I’ll join you, but modify the terms of the challenge: instead of making something from scratch every month, I’m going to try a new bread recipe. Luckily I have a great book to guide me: Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand, by Beatrice Ojakangas. I’ll try to remember to post pictures to my blog – this proves difficult when all I want to do is tear into the loaf as it comes out of the oven!


    • That sounds like an awesome challenge. (I need a few more loaves under my belt before I feel that confident in my bread baking!) I can’t wait to see what you come up with!


  8. Posted by Kris on 02/23/2011 at 15:12

    I think that’s a wonderful idea! I started to make the effort last year to have the husband cook more from scratch. This year I plan to grow tomatoes. I want to dice some and freeze..for when diced tomatoes are needed. OThers I want to smush into tomato sauce..instead of buying it. Currently I make crescent rolls and we freeze them. Then each night for dinner Husband takes 3 out of the freezer and heats them up. They still takes super good and I like knowing I didn’t buy rolls but instead made from scratch.


    • I’m on a bread kick myself! I think I’ve got the basic routine down and am ready to move on to something out of my fancier baking book that I’ve never felt up to before. I’ve tried the freezing thing before, but only with cookie dough balls. Never know when you’re going to have a rotten day and need fresh cookies, like, now. Please keep us updated on your tomato project, too!


  9. Yes! Real food tastes better. We are so accustomed to processed food-products, excess packaging, and convenience. Many of us aren’t even aware that whole food is an option, nor that we are perfectly equipped to make food from scratch. I enjoy making breads, sauces, salsas, and lots of other things that I could easily buy pre-packaged. I’m sure there are more… I’ll join you, too!


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